Revolving Door Villains

"That will be 25,000 gp worth of diamonds, please."
"That will be 25,000 gp in diamonds, please."

There’s a running joke that in high-magic fantasy games, death is naught but a revolving door and the party cleric is the doorman.  I haven’t played much 4e myself, but I’ve heard many of the epic-level abilities start out “Once per day, when you die…”  If there’s a bigger way to hang the “death doesn’t matter” out for everyone to see, I haven’t found it yet.

What about villains, though?  Unless everyone is playing a pulp-style adventure, having the villain inexplicably escape every time he’s encountered can seem contrived and simple GM-fiat, but can the revolving door be used as a plot device to present the players with a unique challenge?

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BACKSTAB! +4, x5

Sometimes getting a group of characters emotionally invested in their adversaries can be tricky.  There are tried and true methods like having the adversary take something (or someone) of value from the characters but if done poorly it can come off as an uncreative cookie-cutter set up.  Not only can it fail to get the players invested, it can actually divest them from the plot as well.

wizThere’s also the issue of the omnipotent adversary.  Inexperienced gamemasters can fall into the trap of giving their adversaries full knowledge of the party’s actions even if said adversary lacked a sufficient means to gain such information (by spying, scrying, etc).  But again you can run into the trap of the cookie-cutter with things like the traditional wizard with a crystal ball.

When my turn to gamemaster came around in our current game, I decided to use a little trick to get the party invested in one of their adversaries as well as explain why the characters had been oiled in their recent attempts to accomplish their goal.  Unbeknownst to the players, I made one of their characters the adversary.

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The Failure that was Earthdawn: First Dawn

In my last blarg I talked about the storyline I had put together for my recent Earthdawn game. If you haven’t read that blarg yet please do, because otherwise some of the issues or events I’ll be discussing below may not make sense.

First Dawn started well enough, with the characters interacting with the various residents of the kaer. Everyone had the opportunity to show off a bit of their character’s background and motivations (except the ork’s player who couldn’t make it) which I think they all enjoyed. After that the party was gathered together for a ceremony that ended with the kaer doors being opened and the party heading out through the traps to the surface with tokens which were supposed to disable the traps for them.

At the far end of the trapped area, the party was introduced to the obsidiman that was supposed to act as their guide. Centuries ago he had volunteered to enter the kaer and enter the Dreaming through the Scourge to be able to guide its people back to the surface when the time came. The party, being told he was how they would open the kaer doors but thinking he was just a statue/key, had drag him up to the surface with the aid of a disk of True Air which levitated him and allowed him to be floated to the front antechamber. Due to the proximity to the surface awoke while the party was resting, leading to some interesting interaction.

After some discussion with the obsidimen about who he was and then ultimately what to expect outside, the adepts finally opened the front doors to the kaer and saw the destruction the Scourge had caused to the countryside. With that visual the first session ended. In hindsight it was a successful session and had hit all of the goals and themes I had set (with the exception of the missing player).

Everything went downhill from there.

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Dankelzahn the Gamemaster

I’m not going to pretend I’m an amazing gamemaster. I’m usually told my games are fun, but there’s a lot of things that I see myself do that I wish I would do or had done differently. The blarg that follows probably shouldn’t be taken as advice that should necessarily be followed – it’s collection of my thoughts on my own gamemastering style inspired by some of the discussion that took place in the comments of my introduction blarg.

In my opinion, nailing down a gamemastering style is more difficult than a playing style due to the different nature of gamemastering. This isn’t true in all cases – some gamemasters run games completely transparently, where the players are aware of most of the decisions, difficulties, and stats surrounding everything he does. But I’ve noticed I don’t run games like this, which can give players one perspective based on what they see while giving myself a different perspective knowing why I’m doing what I’m doing. This probably needs some clarification.

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Gamemastering: Collaborative Scene Building

One of the practices my current Star Wars GM implemented in our first game was to occasionally stop when describing a scene and having we the players add details to the scene. Unfortunately there were only a few opportunities during the last session to put this technique into practice, but when we did it proved an excellent tool for getting everyone involved into the scene.

As the gamemaster, I typically can envision every scene in the games I run, from surroundings to mood to weather to supporting cast. However in my experience can be easy to fail to fully communicate this to my players. Maybe I skip over something that for me is a given based on my other descriptions but isn’t for my players, or maybe I just get so wrapped up into detailing one aspect of the scene that I forget to describe another. It’s never intentional, but sometimes it happens. Regardless, I can already see how I will be able to leverage this collaborative scene building technique in the future to help improve my own game.

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Have wargames made me a better roleplayer?

Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, but can miniature wargames make a person a better roleplayer? I can already hear the objections. “What? Are you crazy? A game that is nothing more than a glorified hack and slash encounter can’t possibly help your roleplaying! That’s just inane!”

I quite possibly could be crazy, but if so it’s for reasons other than my above claim. I’m not trying to convince all you role-players out there to go buy some pewter and put the smack down on your friends. And I’m certainly not saying that people who play wargames are inherently better at roleplaying than those that don’t. What I am saying is that I’ve noticed an improvement in my own role-playing since I started playing Warmachine a year ago, and here’s why.

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Star Wars: The Twilight Path begins

Star Wars: The Twilight PathLast Saturday my gaming group began our latest campaign – Star Wars: The Twilight Path using the SWd20 system. The gamemaster has set up a wiki for the campaign on his personal web site. We players were given less information about this campaign than we did the previous one. The game is set in the old republic, centered around a Jedi training facility, or Praxeum, on the planet Terol where we were all to be students. Before the first session we were told that the game would begin with us playing youngling versions of our characters and we’d later pick up with our actual characters as adults and go from there.

With any luck I’ll be able to follow each session with a blargpost discussing an aspect of the game – either setting, system, or meta – that came up in that session. At some point I’d like to take some time to discuss the d20 system and it’s fit for the game as a whole, but for my first topic I’ve chosen to talk about the variation of the flashback technique with which we started the campaign.

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